Sunday, April 8, 2007

SUPERMAN: THE MOVIE - Blu-ray (Warner Bros. 1978) Warner Home Video

Forget Brandon Routh. There is only one Superman and his name was Christopher Reeve. In 1978, director Richard Donner premiered his flight into fancy with Superman: The Movie – a captivating, intelligently scripted, escapist fantasy about the man of steel and his exploits amid we mere mortals here on earth.

Epic, sprawling and thoroughly faithful to its comic roots, Superman: The Movie begins in earnest on the planet of Krypton, where Superman’s father, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) is desperately trying to convince his superiors that the planet is headed for Armageddon. Sadly, the elders, fronted by 1st Elder (Trevor Howard), feel that Jor-El is becoming an alarmist.

Released into the atmosphere inside a safe cocoon of protective crystals, moments before Krypton is destroyed  – baby Superman crash lands on earth where he is quickly snapped up by childless couple, Jonathan (Glenn Ford) and Martha Kent (Phyllis Thaxter). They raise the child as their own. But Superman (renamed Clark and played as a youth by Jeff East), doesn’t quite fit in. How can he? He's smarter, faster and stronger than his contemporaries, yet forced to suppress his powers. After Jonathan dies of a heart attack, Clark leaves the farm to journey to the South Pole, where he discovers his Fortress of Solitude and the real purpose for his being on earth. After many years of tutelage, Clark (now played by Christopher Reeves) returns to civilization and takes a job as a mild-mannered cub reporter on The Daily Planet in Metropolis.

There, Clark meets gregarious reporter, Lois Lane (Margo Kidder). Smitten – though the affection is barely reciprocated, Clark gains Lois ear and interests only after he narrowly saves her life as the studly man in red and blue spandex. Overnight, the legend of Superman is born – a tabloid exploitation destined to bring out both the best and the worst in mankind. Of this latter persuasion is the diabolical Lex Luthor (Gene Hackman) – whose heart is set on world domination.

Luthor is a criminal mastermind who uses simpleton henchman, Otis (Ned Beatty) as his eyes and ears above ground while he plots taking over the world from his underground lair beneath the city's subway system. Superman presents a definite problem, one Luthor cannot seem to overcome until he realizes that a rock sample fallen to earth from Krypton has the power to destroy his adversary. Luring Superman to his underground lair, Luthor exposes his arch nemesis to the devastating powers of the Kryptonian rock, leaving Superman to presumably die.

Thankfully, Luthor's love interest, Eve Teschmacher (Valarie Perrine) is not without a heart. After Luthor leaves to carry out his diabolical plan, Eve rescues Superman who flies to stop Luthor from starting a devastating earthquake in southern California. Regrettably, he is too late. The quake hits and swallows Lois Lane in her car. She dies, leaving Superman with no recourse but to reverse the orbit of the earth and thereby time itself in order to reset the path of human history by a few minutes. Okay, so the last act makes no sense - scientific or otherwise. Just go with it. It's only a movie, and a damn good one at that!

Publicity of its day proclaimed “You will believe a man can fly” and miraculously, audiences did. Reeve’s central performance as a man out of time and ‘space’ – literally – is perhaps the most seamless and timeless portrayal of a super hero ever captured on celluloid. There’s a magnificent undercurrent of believability to everything he does as both Clark Kent and his alter ego, a sort of grand deception that readily makes audiences forget that the man and the character are not one in the same.

Donner was pressed for time, working on both this film and its sequel simultaneously. Unhappy chance that producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind were less than impressed by the amount of time it took to accomplish this feat. They removed Donner from the project before its completion and the result was a film that – while commercially viable – did not entirely reflect Donner’s vision.

That oversight has been rectified with Warner Bros. release of this newly minted extended Blu-ray. Reassembling footage to accommodate the director’s original vision, and with the added benefit of digital restoration, Superman: The Movie has never looked or sounded better. The 1080p image is exceptional. Colors are rich, bold and vibrant. Contrast levels are nicely realized. Blacks are deep and solid. Whites are generally clean; though occasionally adopt a bluish or yellowy tint.

Matte photography and split screen special effects are nicely concealed, though every attempt has been made to integrate these elements into the overall integrity of technologies available back in 1978. Extras include 3 fascinating behind the scenes documentaries, stills galleries, an audio commentary, music only track and storyboard concepts. Recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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